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The almond tree's secret weapon
Date:1/28/2010

The nectar of the almond tree produces an extraordinary and dangerous poison. This is the only known plant to have this poison in its flowers' nectar. A study carried out at the University of Haifa has revealed that bees are mysteriously drawn to the toxic substance.

Has the almond tree developed a unique way of drawing potential pollinators? A group of researchers at the Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Science Education at the University of Haifa-Oranim speculate that the toxin called amygdalin that is found in almond tree nectar is in fact an evolutionary development intended to give that tree an advantage over others in its surroundings.

Previous studies have already shown that amygdalin can be found in almond nectar at a concentration of 4-10 milligrams per liter. It also known that the almond tree is the only plant to have this toxin in its flowers' nectar; in fact, the tree's subgenus classification is Amygdalus, after the toxin it produces. For small mammals this is a deadly substance and as it is highly concentrated in the seeds of unripe wild bitter almonds, these almonds are also dangerous for human consumption.

A group of researchers, headed by Prof. Ido Izhaki along with Prof. Gidi Ne'eman, Prof. Moshe Inbar and Dr. Natarajan Singaravelan, investigated why it is that this plant produces such a potent toxin a by-product of which is cyanide in its nectar. They explain that the presence of amygdalin in the nectar is seemingly incompatible with the nectar's purpose of attracting insects to the flower to extract food and pollinate it and thereby contribute to the plant's reproduction.

The researchers exposed honey bees to plates of nectar that had varying concentrations of the toxin and a plate of nectar without the toxin. The team first monitored four different amygdalin concentrations, resembling the natural levels of the toxin in almond tree nectar: 2.5-10 milligrams per
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Contact: Rachel Feldman
rfeldman@univ.haifa.ac.il
972-482-88722
University of Haifa
Source:Eurekalert

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